Cebu News

Covering crisis situations: No need for new legislation

- Jessica Ann R. Pareja -

CEBU, Philippines – The police and the media believe that legislation is not necessary to regulate the coverage of crisis situations in the aftermath of the hostage taking tragedy in Manila that led to the loss of lives including that of eight Hong Kong nationals.

The rules and standards with regards to such incidents are already in place, but what happened during that fateful incident last August 23 was that some media outfits were not prudent enough to abide by the rules set.

From the perspective of the members of the Cebu media, who have learned from the experience, they believe that their co-workers in the industry have in a way vio-lated its self-imposed policy.

"We were less than careful about our own rules. In the heat of the coverage, the 10 commandments became 10 suggestions," said Juan Mercado, a veteran in the media industry.

Going over the Journalistic codes of ethics, he said that journalists in the past agreed to the rule of balancing of rights.

Basing on the August 23 hostage taking incident, Mercado said that the media failed to take into consideration the right of the other victim, which was the hostage taker.

The broadcast media specifically, blatantly ignored one of the provisions of its long set of rules where they prohibited the live broadcasting of hostage crisis.

This only shows that there is no need for new set of rules to reiterate what has been set before.

"Sometimes it is not in the codes, it is in the implementation," Mercado said.

Paolo Romero of the Philippine Star agreed that there is no question about the standards in reporting that has been tried and tested.

There were incidents in the past that the police were able to request and granted a media black, Romero recalled.

He added that legislation to regulate media coverage is not the solution to correct the mistake that was admitted by the media organizations that covered the hostage crisis.

"As what Mr. Mercado said, no hostage crisis will be the same the second time, so the law may not be applicable by then. And the more general the law is, the more it is prone to abuse," Romero said.

Even the provision of the Constitution on the right to freedom of expression, should said, should not be taken as an absolute right to freedom of reporting.

"Yes, we have the freedom to report but we should not compromise our oath to quality reporting," he said.

Romero has covered the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Malacañang beats while Mercado writes for the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Sunstar Cebu.

They were joined by Police Regional Office 7 director Senior Superintendent Ager Ontog as the key speakers and panelists during the forum on how to handle crisis situation dubbed as the "Crisis Situation: A Crisis for Media?" held yesterday at the Marcelo B. Fernan Press Center in Lahug, Cebu City.

Ontog also believes that media doesn't have to be regulated by a law because a proper communication is suffice to achieve both parties' goals.

"We can always deal with each other. We in the police subscribe to the policy of open communication to the media. We release information as promptly because we recognize your duty to inform the public of what's happening," Ontog said.

"But there are some cases that we need to balance between the right of the people to know and the right and responsibility of the government to protect the people and ensure safety. We believe that the police and the media have the highest duty to protect lives. We both serve the public. We just need to coordinate our actions with main con-sideration on the safety of the public," Ontog added.

Yesterday's forum was organized in line with the celebration of the 16th Cebu Press Freedom Week and relevantly to encourage public discussion on the question that has once again surfaced regarding the media's role in protecting the interest of the public versus its corporal interest.

It was sponsored by The FREEMAN and Banat News of the Philippine Star Group of Publications, and the Visayan Electric Company (Veco). - /NLQ (FREEMAN)











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